Handbook of Critical Policy Studies
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Handbook of Critical Policy Studies

Edited by Frank Fischer, Douglas Torgerson, Anna Durnová and Michael Orsini

Critical policy studies, as illustrated in this Handbook, challenges the conventional approaches public policy inquiry. But it offers important innovations as well, in particular its focus on discursive politics, policy argumentation and deliberation, and interpretive modes of analysis.
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Chapter 22: Transforming perspectives: the critical functions of interpretive policy analysis

Hendrik Wagenaar


This chapter explores the radical epistemological claim of Interpretive Policy Analysis (IPA) that it provides a better kind of knowledge, knowledge with a better fit with society, than traditional empiricist policy analysis (EPA). While EPA takes an unreflexive, realist view of the categories of analysis and is oblivious to the meaning of the data, IPA presents a variety of critical functions. By foregrounding the target group’s narratives of the impact of the policy intervention on their lives, hermeneutic IPA is critical in the sense of confronting the policy maker’s assumptions of the world with the resistances that the world exerts on a policy intervention. This confrontation is an elementary act of critique and enlightenment. Discursive IPA is critical in the sense that it overcomes the cognitive, moral and practical confinement that is intrinsic to the captivity imposed by large, unnoticed cognitive-ideational frameworks that compromise our capacity for free, unfettered judgment and self-government. Dialogical IPA, finally, is critical in that it is not only aimed at critically diagnosing a situation but also, and always, at transforming it, at finding accommodations, workable solutions and possibilities for change. I conclude that in confronting assumptions with experience, facilitating collaborative forms of policy making, and setting up dialogues of practice and argument that are as inclusive as possible, IPA contributes to deepening democracy.

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